News | Wednesday, 18 February 2009

EC study pours cold water over university stipends

Matthew Vella
Malta is spending too much on university students, and not getting enough university graduates in return, a study by the European Commission has revealed.
The study, prepared by the directorate-general for economic and financial affairs, found that Maltese university education is producing “far less efficient outcomes”, namely low enrolment rates and poor results in educational attainment for the money it spends on undergraduates.
And it also says that the relatively generous stipends paid to undergraduates “while increasing public spending, appear to be delivering less than satisfactory outcomes.”
In 2009 the government will spend €21 million in student maintenance grants – stipends for post-secondary and university students.
The study’s authors claim that Malta should spend its money more efficiency because stipends are granted indiscriminately and not related to merit or success.
They claim that at 44 per cent of the present spending levels per student, the same level of undergraduates would still enrol at university.
“The extent to which the cost incurred by government in giving maintenance grants leads to further increase participation in tertiary education, is doubtful,” the authors say.
They also say that although the number of women per 100 male graduates is higher than the EU average, more women could be drafted for university education if it weren’t for cultural barriers hindering them from pursuing further education.
“Improving the efficiency of spending would allow the tertiary enrolment rate to rise to around 52% instead of the current 26%, suggesting that a more efficient transformation of spending into tertiary educational output could lead to higher educational attainment levels in Malta.”
The same study also found that Malta spends relatively less than most EU counterparts on primary education, per student, and that Malta had one of the lowest pupil-teacher ratios – around 19 primary school pupils for each teacher.
In secondary education, public spending was more efficient, with an above-average enrolment rate and lower spending on each secondary student. “This is primarily a result of a higher-than-average class size which, in turn, may partly reflect a shortage of teachers at the secondary level.”
The study said the recent reform in grouping secondary schools according to networks, was a “welcome step and should enhance efficiency.”
Public spending on education in Malta amounts to around 5.5 per cent of GDP, which is higher than the EU average (5.2 per cent). More than 60 per cent goes to staff wages and salaries, and another 30 per cent goes for current expenditure. Two-thirds of current expenditure goes in student maintenance grants and subsidies to Church schools.
The same study also dealt with the efficiency of public spending on healthcare. Together with education, government spending in these two areas is about 30 per cent of its total expenditure.
Around 80 per cent of total healthcare expenditure is funded by the public purse. Half of the public expenditure goes to wages and salaries, compared to 27 per cent in the EU.
The study said the efficiency of public healthcare spending was “relatively weak”.
“Expenditure could be 62 per cent lower and achieve an equivalent outcome,” the study said with regards to infant morality and mortality rates.
“The findings suggest there is scope for rationalising tertiary education and healthcare spending without compromising outcomes. In these areas, Malta appears to perform inefficiently due to high spending rather than weak outcomes. It is therefore crucial to identify the institutional and structural factors that prevent Malta from achieving higher public spending efficiency in these areas.”


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18 February 2009

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